Gobshite: or, strumpeth under the majis

It starts with gobshite.

OK, it’s like this. I was attempting to look up the original ending of Leave it to Psmith, by P.G. Wodehouse, by looking up the scan of the Saturday Evening Post edition of 24 March 1923, as is a perfectly normal activity that requires no further justification. Although, alas, I failed in that endeavor, as I evidently have access to the full text of items in the Post up through 1922 and then picking up again only in 1933. Curse it. Fortunately, a friend pointed me to another person who posted the changed text, and I didn’t have to dig up the file I had typed it in, twenty years or so ago. So that’s all right.

And, as one would expect, having failed to locate the thing I was looking for, I found myself reading something else, in this case “The Crime Wave at Blandings”, Mr. Wodehouse’s utterly brilliant short story that sees the return of Mr. Baxter from Psmith. It’s a wonderful story, really my favorite of his short stories, and I hadn’t read it in ages, so there we are. And there I was on page 6 of the edition of 10 October 1936, reading the reaction of Lord Emsworth’s grandson George to seeing Mr. Baxter for the first time.

“Looks a bit of a gobshite,” said George critically.

The expression was new to Lord Emsworth, but he recognized it at once as the ideal description of Rupert Baxter.

Well, I was gobsmacked. That’s not the word the lad uses in the version I had read. I double-checked our copy of Lord Emsworth and Others, and there it is:

“Looks a bit of a blister,” said George critically.

The expression was new to Lord Emsworth, but he recognized it at once as the ideal description of Rupert Baxter.

Well. The OED’s first listing of gobshite to mean loudmouth isn’t until 1946. The earlier use of gobshite as US Navy slang for an enlisted seaman does not seem entirely apropos, here, either. And yes, gobshite does essentially mean poop-mouth, and the word is I believe still considered a mild profanity. Not the sort of thing I expected to find in the pages of the Saturday Evening Post from 1936.

And perhaps I should stop there and break this next part into another entry, but the other thing that I came across in the Saturday Evening Post was a note on the back page of the edition of 17 October 1936, just under the notice that P.G. Wodehouse was returning to sully their illustrious pages with his mild profanities and finish “The Crime Wave at Blandings”, with the subhed STRUMPETH MAJIS. In it, Clarence Budington Kelland explains that the phrase “strumpeth under the majis” in his story from September 5 of that year was intended to be pure double-talk, or nonsense, or “merely noises”. So I present the last lines of the story “Spotlight”:

“Exactly what I was about to say,” said Jeff. “Everybody strumpeth under the majis totally. Oh, very, very majis.”

The General glared. He cleared his throat.

“Majis, but parsang strumpeth,” he said proudly.

So, then: just as somebody else made me happy by typing in the thing I wanted from the Saturday Evening Post, I hope that somebody in some future time searches the internet for “Majis, but parsang strumpeth”, finds this entry and is, er, entirely satisfied by Mr. Kelland’s total lack of explanation.


2 Responses to “Gobshite: or, strumpeth under the majis”

  1. Will Q

    It’s not every day one has the opportunity to submit a new earliest citation of a word to the OED! Are you properly relishing this?

    • -Ed.

      It’s difficult to tell if I am relishing it properly. I mean, honestly I am a trifle irritated that the submission form requires me to enter pronunciation information that I don’t have, since the Saturday Evening Post wasn’t printed in IPA at the time.



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